Nationalism, art, revolution and what it means to be Czech are questions that burned through Prague society in the 1800s.
Deaf Empire, an original play by Stephan Delbos, reimagines the dramatic turns in the life of “The Father of Czech Music” Bedřich Smetana (1824–1884).
The notion of what it is to be Czech, and art as the urgent heartbeat of nationalism, unfolds in this play which will have its Prague premiere on March 3, 4, 5, 9 and 10 Divadlo Kolowrat, Kolowratský Palác.
Set in the later half of the 19th century, the play stars British actor Gregory Gudgeon (The Lion King, Shakespeare’s Globe ensemble) as the fervent Smetana, with 2016 StarDance winner Zdeněk Piškula as the ambitious young conductor Adolf Čech.
Smetana insisted on the validity of Czech melodies and themes in classical music and opera, and achieved significant social prominence. But he was not immune to tragedy. The death of his wife and children and complete loss of hearing seemingly destroyed the composer’s career.
In the final decade of his life, while suffering from deafness and worsening mental health, Smetana composed some of his most famous music, including Má vlast (My Homeland), an orchestral portrayal of the landscapes and legends of Bohemia.
William Valerián (Úplné Zatmění, Klicperovo Divadlo) stars as the revivalist poet Jan Neruda who, alongside Smetana, becomes enchanted by the pursuit of nationalism through art.
Recreating Smetana’s struggle for artistic integrity amid the cultural imperialism of Austro-Hungarian rule and the limits of his own ability, Deaf Empire is a meditation on music, artistic dedication and the vicissitudes of fame and fate.
Playwright Stephan Delbos’s previous play, Chetty’s Lullaby, about Chet Baker, debuted at StageWerx in San Francisco in 2014. He is the editor of From a Terrace in Prague: A Prague Poetry Anthology (Litteraria Pragensia). His co-translation of The Absolute Gravedigger, by Czech poet Vítězslav Nezval, was published by Twisted Spoon Press.
“Smetana’s story is inherently dramatic, from his struggle to be taken seriously as a Czech composer, to the deaths of his wife and children, and his perseverance during his own physical and mental decline,” said Delbos.
“Deaf Empire explores the complex conflicts of Smetana’s life and music, and through that we also learn something about the roles of friendship and art in times of crisis, both personal and political.”
The world premiere of this telling of Smetana’s complex, passionate and turbulent life comes amid a political climate in our modern world heavy with questions of nationalism and the place of art and resistance within the social order.
All performances are at 19:00; the play is in English with Czech subtitles.
Deaf Empire is produced by Prague Shakespeare Company and directed by Amy Huck.
Prague Shakespeare company thanks Dominika Kolowrat, Maximilian Kolowrat and Francesca Kolowrat for their generous and selfless support.